Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fourth Rock From The Sun


As of late yesterday, the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence for Mars Curiosity has begun! As MSL prepares for landing on or solar system's "Fourth Rock", it's a good time to learn about what it will be doing on the surface for the next two years!

Well, it's expected to last two years... though with its nuclear power source fueled by plutonium-238, it could conceivably last a decade. I hope.

NASA MSL Press Kit
Click for Mars Curiosity Rover Press Kit

Behold the miniature laboratory! The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity Rover, comes with advanced sensors and experimentation equipment, laser, a 7-foot-long robotic arm, and 17 cameras!

NASA Engineers and project managers compiled a beautiful 60-page Press Kit for MSL that contains an overview of planet Mars, MSL mission objectives, history of Mars exploratory treks, Curiosity's landing site and EDL breakdown, and a complete -- one might even say exhaustive -- description of all onboard instruments.

Absolutely worth the read...

Camilla in the clean room
Camilla SDO visits the Curiosity Clean Room

Here are the major highlights, wildly, wildly condensed:

• MSL Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrument (MEDLI):
Engineers from Ames & Langley collaborated to design and build sophisticated plugs with multiple temperature sensors that measure atmospheric conditions and performance of the heat shield.

• Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA): Ames researchers invented the unique thermal protection system consisting of tiles that the MSL spacecraft will use to safely reach the Martian surface.

• Parachute: Ames engineers conducted a full-scale MSL parachute deployment, small-scale verification tests, as well as supersonic tests to study the interaction between the MSL Capsule and parachute during atmospheric entry. All tested in the NASA Ames wind tunnels.

Mars Science Laboratory
• Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin): Ames scientists developed this definitive mineralogy instrument to identify and quantify the minerals in Martian rocks and soils, delivered by the, robotic arm shovel, otherwise known as the Sample Acquisition, Sample Processing and Handling (SA/SPaH) system.

• MSL InterfaCE (MSLICE): JPL and Ames engineers developed this software tool to plan the science activities of the Mars rover and maximize scientific research.

Live inside the Mars Rover clean room (2011)

Also on board:

• Spectrometers:
Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam), Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (inside the CheMin), Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite

• Radiation Detectors:

Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)

• Environmental Sensors:
Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)

• Atmospheric Sensors:
Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI)

Cost? $2.5 billion. Oh baby, you'd better not crash...